What Kenny Baker (and his friend R2-D2) meant to us

Story highlights

  • Gene Seymour: Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2 has died; it's easy to see why his famous character will live on
  • He says people get misty about machines, even imaginary ones with minds of their own who love and care for the people who need them

Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and the Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN)Kenny Baker is dead. Long live R2-D2.

Or is it Are-too-Dee-too? And are there supposed to be dashes?
Never mind. The point being made here is that while one laments Baker's death at 81 after what sources characterize as a "long illness," nothing whatsoever has happened to the brave and doughty little "droid" that saved galaxies, repaired starships and helped guide a hero on his often-fraught path towards Enlightenment.
    Somehow, you can be sure, he will go on.
    Still, one can share the desolation so many are feeling with Baker's loss. Knowing there was an actual human being inside that beeping, whirring contraption somehow made the character -- and, yes, he most certainly IS a character, as others in the movies keep insisting -- seem even more companionable and inspiring.
    Underline "companionable." For at least a couple of generations, Baker and his alter ego had become confidantes, family friends, good luck charms and, yes, role models.
    Cynics may scoff and puzzle over how children grow up attached to toy models created and sold off multi-million-dollar franchises.
    They don't understand and never will.
    And yet, these same skeptics will likely feel their eyes get moist when they say goodbye to a car they've owned for 20 years. Or feel their hearts swell when they gaze at an ancient airplane that once carried a man alone across the continent where no one flew before.
    Admit it. You do, too, get sentimental about machines and, if in the proper mood, can even get mushy about imaginary machines with minds of their own who love and care for the people who need them.
    Star Wars R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker dies
    Star Wars R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker dies

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    Star Wars R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker dies 00:50
    That's what R2-D2 meant to the kids who eventually grew up and took their kids to see him reboot the Millennium Falcon and cheep like a parakeet when his Master Luke Skywalker saved the galaxy.
    Making it all the more gratifying was the knowledge that Baker in real life was also generous and brave; the former, in his charitable activities for children, the latter in being able to wear that metal can in all manner of weather and come through as the megastar nobody saw, but fans all over the world recognized.
    Baker is gone, but you can bet your mortgage and first-born that nothing at all will happen to R2-D2. There's a franchise that's up and running again, after all. Just ask C3PO.
    Or is it See-Three-Pee-Oh. And are there dashes?